The best way for Trinity to keep from wearing down under the constant rushing barrage of Northside was to strike early on offense against the Rams.
Trinity quarterback Allen Wood completed his first 16 passes and the red-hot Wildcat offense scored on its first three possessions to defeat Northside 34-13 in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs at Boykin Field on Friday night.
“We felt like every time we had the ball, we had to be efficient and put the scores in,” Trinity coach Randy Ragsdale said. “They’ve got big-play potential any time 22 (A.J. Travis) and 28 (Zarrian Grant) get the ball.”
Running out of a double-wing formation, the Rams got 173 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries by Travis and 137 yards on 20 carries from Grant, keeping the pressure on the Wildcats even after Trinity had built a 21-0 lead. A crucial interception by Steadman Bethea kept the Rams from making it a one-touchdown game in the third quarter and a fumble recovery by Jake Sandlin sealed the victory in the fourth.
Trinity (9-2) will travel to Straughn, a 35-7 winner over Daleville, in the second round next Friday. Northside (6-5), making its first playoff appearance since 1994, fell to 0-7 in first-round games but earned the respect of their opponents on Friday.
“Those guys are quick,” Sandlin said, “and they run a strange offense. I’ve never seen it before. You’ve got to perfect the small things when it comes to tackling and reading formations. Just one small play and they’re gone.”
An early turnover by the Wildcats on special teams forced a defensive stand by Trinity, holding on downs at its 8-yard line. The Wildcats then marched 92 yards, with five passes by Wood picking up four first downs before Bethea ran the final three yards for a touchdown.
“We knew we would have to come out fast and get a good comfortable lead to slow them down because their offense is so lethal,” Bethea said. “We kind of slowed down in the second quarter, but we knew we had to keep sustaining our lead or they were going to come back on us.”
After a fake punt gave Trinity the ball at the Northside 24, Wood hit Robert Adams for five yards and Win Grice with a bubble screen that covered the final 19 yards for a 14-0 lead.
On the first possession of the second quarter, Trinity marched 85 yards in 11 plays, with Wood’s 14-yard scoring pass to Will Clements capping a 15 for 15 performance (for 168 yards) in the first 16 minutes of the game.
“The offensive line was giving me so much time,” Wood said. “The receivers were getting open, and we were just playing catch and having fun out there.”
Northside finally got untracked late in the first half to cut the lead to 21-6 at the half, but Wood completed all six passes on the opening drive of the third quarter, lofting a pass to Bethea for the final 10 yards and a 27-6 lead.
“He had a phenomenal first half,” Ragsdale said. “I thought we played offensively with a fast pace. (Northside) coach (Chris Hilliker) and (his staff) had a great plan. They mixed up some coverages at times and played hard and stuck to their philosophy.”
The touchdown was crucial because Travis ran through two arm tackles on a 90-yard run on the next play from scrimmage to help the Rams back in the game at 27-13. Wood was 27-of-32 for 246 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, but it was the Trinity defense that sealed the win in the second half as Bethea turned back the next Northside drive with an interception.
“They’re great athletes, some of the best athletes we’ve played against,” Bethea said. “You’ve got to get a good angle on them or they’re gone. The young guys really did a good job (on the Trinity scout team). They know what their job is in practice, and they know what they have to do on scout-team offense for us.”
Bethea sealed the win with a 4-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter after James Pate stripped Travis of the ball and Sandlin recovered on the Northside 13-yard line.